How dare she? How dare she smash the old bridal testament set in stone and carve out a new one? As my father would say, “S(he) who dares, wins” and win she did.
To this day, this dress is still the fashion testimonial of a certain taste level that many will attempt to copy but few will be able to carry. This dress was not a revolutionary move for Carolyn; the slip dress was already a firm member in her wardrobe club, but it was her decision for it to be her bridal dress that set her apart.
For those who were close to Carolyn, her choice of designer was not a surprise either. She had met her friend and colleague Narciso Rodriguez during her Calvin [Klein] days, and he would later move to Cerruti Arte circa 1995. He was the interpreter of her design dreams; their special bond was the perfect designer-muse collaboration for this dress. Carolyn chose a relatively unknown designer for a momentous day, but he was happy to design for a dear friend.
“She loved him,” said Paul Rowland, a close friend and colleague. “She wanted the best for him as she did for everyone. She always championed the underdog, and we all were in some way. That’s what made her so special.” The designer not only created the wedding dress but also Caroline Kennedy’s maid of honor dress—a high-waisted navy silk crepe gown—and Carolyn’s rehearsal dress, a cream beaded chiffon design. There were three final versions of the wedding dress in various luxurious fabrics: the final selection was a $40,000 pearl-colored silk crepe floor-length gown cut on the bias.
Sasha Chermayeff, one of John Jr.’s best friends and a wedding attendee, said, “She was late to the wedding, perhaps in her nervousness of getting everything perfect. I always thought that it made everything perfect in a way because the evening sun was setting and then the wedding was candlelit. It was beautiful.”
George Kyriakos, Carolyn’s hairstylist, confirmed that she arrived late because the dress had to be taken in as she had lost so much weight between fittings. Perhaps it was the toll of keeping the ceremony—and her engagement—a global secret. The couple took great pains to ensure that it was their day and not the world’s. Sasha said, “It was perfectly choreographed. Everybody knew as soon as they left this little haven that the couple would have to face the press and the circus of life. I think we all didn’t want to leave that bubble because it was so beautiful.” Princess Diana later disclosed to Anna Wintour that she envied the privacy of the wedding and had wished for something similar herself, although her family would never allow it.
Whatever the delay, it was worth the wait. Carolyn arrived with a seductive sheath of a dress, her décolletage coyly dipping thanks to the slight cowl neckline, her only concession to formal bridal attire were her silk tulle opera gloves and veil moving faintly with her breath as she said her vows. Carolyn knew exactly what she was doing when she wore and chose that dress—how dare she indeed.
Excerpt from the new book CBK: CAROLYN BESSETTE KENNEDY: A LIFE IN FASHION by Sunita Kumar Nair, published by Abrams. Text Copyright: © 2023 H11, Inc. Image Copyright: © Mark Tennant
Sunita Kumar Nair is a fashion creative director and writer, who has contributed to leading publications such as Sunday Times Style and WWD and was on the masthead of W magazine in New York. Having worked alongside the elite in fashion photography and editorial for nearly two decades, she brings her curatorial approach and refined eye to every creative project from fashion to art and design. Her debut book, CBK: Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; A Life in Fashion, is a testament to her discerning taste and vision.